Guillem Balague Website
Guillem: What did you learn from your first coach?
Fernando Torres: I’ve had lots of coaches, from when I was five, but my first professional coach was Manolo Rangel at Atlético when I started there at about ten years old. He was the first one who told me I was going to play in the top flight, but he also used to remind me I should always aim to enjoy myself. He used to let us choose the training exercises, one player each day.
He’d ask one of the kids: “What do you want us to do today?” Over the years you forget the details, but the thing he taught me that has stayed with me is the importance of enjoying yourself, as if it wasn’t a job.
I learned from him that you have to apply yourself every day in training, but above all, that this is a game to be enjoyed.
Guillem: And the man in the street?
Torres: I remember something from the day I left to join Liverpool. It was at Madrid airport, and there were loads of people and cameras everywhere. It was a very emotional time, and my parents were upset to see me leaving. There was this old guy there, nobody knew who he was, but he was quite indignant and he came up to me really upset and said: “It’s a shame that you have to leave Atlético, but I can see that you need to leave to realise your full potential and to be all that you can be; to show the world what we all already know: how good you really are.”
When you play for a football team, it’s times like that you realise many people love you more and care more about you as a person than a footballer. I took those words to heart. Of course, people had said similar things to me before, but this was different.
This was a 60-year-old guy I’d never met before, who’d been an Atlético fan all his life, who loved his team – but at that moment he was more concerned about my well-being than anything else. What makes it even more special is that I realise those are
the things football is losing little by little. But I will carry those words with me for a long while. That really moved me.
Guillem: What has your father taught you?
Torres: A lot. A person is a reflection of his parents. I’ve never been one for trying to stand out, and I’m embarrassed being the centre of attention, but whenever I am in the foreground, I know my father is always there in the background watching over me. I remember playing a match for Atlético when I was eleven or 12 years old in the village of Leganés, and the coach decided to substitute me. There was a guy watching the game, hurling abuse at me, calling me all kinds of names. I put my head up and looked at him, and my father was there, right next to him, but he didn’t say a word; he was completely impassive. He didn’t even look at this guy, let alone say anything to him or start a fight like some parents might. He was just there.
I will never forget that. He was watching everything that goes on and accepting that is the way things are. And that’s how he always is: there, supporting me regardless of what’s going on around him and always with a very gentleman-like attitude.
People might be surprised with my dad’s reaction, but it is a reflection of his personality, the way he has always been, in the background, accepting things as they come.
I learned from him at that moment, this is something I would have to put up with for the rest of my career: Insults, criticism from people that don’t know me. I have had it from packed stadiums, but I know my dad has been in the stands watching me. So, I have learned to prefer to stay in the background, to let people around me take the spotlight, something I’ve never been comfortable with. I’ve never forgotten, thanks to my dad, the importance of the ‘other person’.
Of course there have been occasions where I haven’t been able to avoid the plaudits, or to be in the headlines, but I have always preferred the people closest to me to get the attention.
Guillem: And your mother?
Torres: I learned all about self-sacrifice from her.
She gave up a lot to see me fulfil my ambitions. She didn’t go to work because she was too busy taking me to and from training: every day, from where we lived in Fuenlabrada into Madrid, which meant getting a train, then a bus, then walking through a park. She did it at eight in the morning and again at six in the evening, just to make her son happy. I sometimes think about many old teammates of mine that didn’t make it, and they had mothers who did the same for them.
Both my mum and dad gave much more importance to looking after their son than to themselves. It’s a gift they gave me – I am much happier when I see people around me happy than when I am happy myself.
Everything I am now is a tribute to my mother’s hard work and all that she gave up for me.
Guillem: What about your girlfriend, Olalla?
Torres: I’ve learned a great deal from her. That’s how it is when you find someone you want to share your life with: you have a lot in common and you learn from one another but, above all, they give you something you don’t have yourself. She is a calming influence on me whenever I’m being impulsive, when things are not going well or when we lose a match.
She has had to suffer much disappointed ranting and moaning, especially when I was at Atlético. Now she is also having a good time herself. She has always known how to calm me down when I haven’t been able to see the way out of the tunnel, or wake me up when I’ve been sleeping. She pushes me when I need to be encouraged.
The person that lives with you is sometimes the only one capable of helping you up when you don’t realise how down you are.
Guillem: How about your dogs?
Torres: That it’s not all about the material things in life. It’s not about the things you have or what you have achieved. Life’s about the little things, like five minutes playing in the garden with my dogs. It helps me forget about everything else.
Sometimes ten minutes with my dogs can mean as much to me as playing in a big game of football.
Guillem: What have you learned from playing alongside Steven Gerrard?
Torres: I really admire Steven Gerrard because I know the pressure he is under every day, everybody talking about him all day long – in the changing room, in the pubs, in the stadium…
I’ve heard people say he should be stronger, have a stronger personality. And I know by experience how difficult it is to deal with all that, and he’s at another level of course – because Liverpool is a huge club. I was captain of my team from a very young age and I knew everybody was talking about me. I could feel it, I could see it out of the corner of my eye, especially when things weren’t going right. People look at you from a distance and challenge you with their eyes. All that happens every day to Stevie and he copes with it, everything that is expected of him all the time.
He’s always under tremendous pressure to perform, and everyone looks to him to show leadership, to lift the team. He’s a great example to everyone, and those of us who have been in a similar situation know how difficult it is to handle. It’s incredible the way he carries himself regardless of what is going on around him.
I’d love to be captain of another team one day, and Steven has shown me how to be a great leader.
Guillem: Anything from a referee?
Torres: Well, first of all that these guys aren’t the enemy!
We’re all just trying to do a job: players and referees. I’ve chatted with refs in Spain for like half an hour about football and stuff, and you know what? We shouldn’t complain about their decisions, get too angry or protest too much, because, after all, they are just trying to do the best that they can. We’re all in the same business.
There was one ref in one of our matches – I can’t remember that well what happened, but I know I was the subject of abuse – and he came up to me and said: “Now you know how I feel every weekend.” Before that, I hadn’t given it much thought, I used to have a go at them myself. Now I try to help as much as possible.
We have to realise everybody is fighting his own corner .
Guillem: What has Rafa Benítez taught you?
Torres: To demand a lot of myself daily, not to relax.
When you are in a team where things are going mostly well, players tend to relax. But you must always push yourself; never become complacent; try to do your best every single day. At a club like Liverpool, you can’t sit back after scoring 20-odd goals and say: ‘Well that’s it.’ After you score 20, Benítez is at you during the next training session and stays on top of you all day, all week. He tells you to go off on your own and do new exercises.
There are days when you think: ‘My God, this guy doesn’t let you breathe!’
At times like that you don’t realise all he wants is for you to improve. I want to progress in life, not relax, not be complacent, and you need someone close to you telling you to keep at it. It is impossible to do it otherwise. We don’t always fancy having someone like that so close, but in the long term I am sure everybody will thank him for it.
Guillem: Did the Atlético fans teach you anything?
Torres: I’m an Atlético fan, and I would love the chance to go back there.
Maybe I’ll be able to play them in the UEFA Champions League! I like to think I’d get a good reception from them. Whenever I bump into an Atlético fan in the street, I’m still considered one of them, one of their own, and that’s a wonderful thing.
It would be really hard for me if I ever went back there and I didn’t get a warm reception. That would be very difficult to deal with. I hope it is not the case.
Guillem: And the Liverpool supporters?
Torres: You can’t imagine better support.
They are totally behind their team, supporting us through thick and thin. No matter what happens they are always behind me and the team – when you’re wearing that red shirt of Liverpool, they give you their full support, to the death.
If you make a mistake they won’t criticise you – because you are wearing the Liverpool shirt, and they support the shirt well above any name.
They enjoy the players they have at any time, and they are gracious when former players return with other teams, showing them their appreciation. When things are going well, they love their players; when they are going not so well, they are still proud of their team.
As players, we always feel we have their backing, that they’re 100% behind us – and we appreciate that very much.That’s the big difference between here and Spain.
Guillem: What about books or films? Have you got anything out of them?
Torres: Different things from books, but above all, friendship is very important. Your relationships are all you have, even when there is nothing else left, and I’ve learned that your friends should be for life. The other thing is that because books are written from, and reveal, people’s personal experiences, they have taught me that deep down we are all the same; we all have the same hopes, desires and fears; the same basic needs in terms of security, family and relationships.
I’ve learned, too, that envy can be a very bad thing, a bad quality. However, it’s not something I’ve encountered here. The people you meet just aren’t like that. Wherever I go, whether it’s Liverpool or Manchester, the people have always been very kind and respectful.
Ultimately, I’ve learned to enjoy what I have in life.
Guillem: What about the journalists who write about you?
Torres: I’ve learned a lot from a number of journalists!
At the end of the day, we footballers are quite egoistical, and most of us would probably say that good journalists are the ones who say good things about us, and the bad ones are those who paint us in a bad light. I’ve learned that there are some who print bad things and criticise me – but not as a way of helping me, but to do me harm, and hinder me. I won’t name names and they’re not worth worrying about – but do I want to show them they are wrong?
Whatever I do, I do for myself, but yes, sometimes I also do it to show them they are wrong. Perhaps their criticism has been right at times, but now, whenever I step out on the pitch, I make sure they can’t say that any more.
Guillem: Finally, have you been affected by a journey or a place you’ve visited?
Torres: I’ve been to quite a few poor places like Polynesia, Bora Bora, Natal, the Amazon in Brazil, parts of Mexico: places where the people are exploited, where they have next to nothing. And the thing that has stuck with me most is that the people who have the least are always those who are willing to give the most.
In these places, devoid of material things and the envy that we obsess about in our world, I’ve found the people are so generous and prepared to share everything.
That’s an incredible thing.
And you know what, it makes you realise that sometimes we players live an unreal life. I would love sometimes to live away from some of the stuff that surrounds us, the excess of money, the jealousies. I go away to these places and it makes me want to share everything with everybody. Then I come back to Europe and, well, it is different here, isn’t it?